|The blurb on the back of Tom Holt's new novel promises us a
book in which Frank Carpenter, one of the foremost magical practitioners of our age, meets
Jane, a high flying corporate executive with a habit of falling out of trees and getting
There are several things wrong with the scenario described by
the blurb. In the story proper, Frank has no knowledge of magic at all, Jane is actually
called Emily, and she is a low level pest exterminator rather than a high flying
executive. She does fall out of a tree and die three times, but she also dies in many
other interesting and bizarre ways as well. At one point she is dumped on the surface of
the moon. She occupies the small amount of time available to her before her inevitable
death by carefully examining the globe of the Earth above her head and utterly failing to
find New Zealand on it.
The blurb is probably the most inaccurate I've ever read in my life. I suspect it is
really there as a ploy to identify those reviewers who never actually read the book, and
who base their entire review solely on the (mis)-information presented on the back cover
of the book.
Fortunately I'm not one of those reviewers I read and enjoyed every word of this
rather insane novel, though I did find the utter absence of Jane from the story more than
a little worrying. I looked for her on every page, and she wasn't there. Honest!
Frank Carpenter possesses a Portable Door. It's a thin sheet of plasticy stuff that he
keeps rolled up in a small cardboard tube. When unrolled and attached to a convenient
vertical surface, it turns into a door (with a nice brass knob) which can take the person
who walks through it anywhere in space and time. Frank uses it to unsettle insurance
claims he works for Mr Sprague, an insurance company manager who hates paying out
on claims. Whenever a large claim is due, Mr Sprague hires Frank to go back in time and
make the event that caused the claim not happen. For this service, Frank receives ten
percent of the money that Mr Sprague now doesn't have to pay out. Everybody is happy.
Emily (nee Jane) is a pest exterminator. She specialises in dragons, but she's a dab
hand at giant spiders as well. The company she works for has her life insured for eleven
million pounds. Consequently when she falls out of a tree and breaks her neck while trying
to rescue a cat, Mr Sprague is not a happy man. He instructs Frank to make it not happen.
Frank duly goes back in time and rescues Emily from certain death, only to have her break
her neck twice more in futile attempts to rescue the damn cat again. He starts to see a
worrying pattern. Somebody is determined that Emily will die
Like all the very best time travel novels, The Better Mousetrap seems
always to be in imminent danger of vanishing up its own paradoxes. The plot is about as
convoluted as it can possibly be, and probably requires at least three new verb tenses in
order to do it proper justice. But Tom Holt never loses control of it and eventually he
ties up all the loose ends and resolves all the contradictory scenarios (including some
that you would have sworn he'd not noticed). It's a masterful work, full of lovely jokes,
enormous cynicism and brain twisting ideas. It made me laugh and it made me think. What
more can anyone ask of a book? It's one of Tom Holt's very best novels.
I approached the end of the story in a high state of Jane anxiety and anticipation.
Would Emily change her name by deed poll and then use the Portable Door to go back in time
and re-write the book I'd just read, thus vindicating the author of the misleading blurb?